So you’ve decided a road trip in South Africa is on the cards. The maps are out and the GPS ready. Where to go? Kruger National Park is always a safe bet. It’s big and well-known and, well, big. There is Durban famous for its golden beaches and stifling humidity. The vast Karoo is a haven for the soul and the Drakensberg can literally take you to new heights.
South Africa is littered with tried and tested tourism stalwarts – all magnificent in their own right. 25 minutes’ drive from Cape Town, however, lies an unspoilt wonderland often overlooked on account of its bigger tourism brothers.
It’s a region with, at times, more attractions than visitors. An outstretched land as wondrous now as it was 5 million years ago. It’s called the Cape West Coast and it’s Africa’s quintessential ‘Road less travelled’.
3 Great Roadtrip Top Tips for ‘The road less travelled’
Plot and plan
Make an occasion of it and get together to plot your route and plan your trip. Let everyone contribute and decide on destinations and places of interest to visit.
And be realistic about how far you want to travel in the time you have. No one is going have fun traveling for 12-hour days, only to get there and have to turn around and go back home.
Take a real, actual map
While gps is the best way to get to somewhere unfamiliar in a hurry and it’s a great back up when you can’t find a specific destination, it’s a lot more fun to track your progress together the old fashioned road-trip way. You can even frame it later as a souvenir.
Get your car checked out
The old cliché, prevention is better than cure, really does apply here. If your car is nearing its due date for a service, then get it done before your tip; if not have a trusted mechanic check it over thoroughly. And don’t forget to check that your spare tyre is pumped up and in working order.
Best of both
One of the stand-out features of the Cape is Cape Point where the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean meet up with a much more temperate offering from in the Indian Ocean.
The contrast is as clear as night and day and forms but one of a number of similar occurrences in a part of the world as famous for its vineyards as it is for its beaches.
And the trend continues on the Cape West Coast where a coastal eco-system lays side by side with a rugged interior.
A birder’s dream
Dotted with wetlands, the Cape West Coast’s coastal region is a birder’s paradise. So blessed is the area that the West Coast Way’s logo takes the shape of a Black Harrier in full flight. The region has also been awarded with no less than seven Important Bird Areas (IBA’s) registered with BirdLife International.
The registration of two wetland systems as RAMSAR sites further emphasizes the importance of the area as a birding hotspot, and to top it all it carries a reputation for producing sightings of rare and vagrant migratory waders during summer.
South African birders have encountered near mythical species such as Dunlin, Black-tailed and Hudsonian Godwits, Red-necked and Wilson’s Phalaropes. Add whales and dolphins to the mix and it’s easy to see why a visit to the Cape West Coast’s coastline could leave you a little awe struck and aching for more.
Wildlife in abundance
Further inland the live attractions are a little more down to earth with wildlife ranging from Oryx to Springbok to Bontebok grazing the plains. With scenery to give the Kruger National Park a good run for its money, the Cape West Coast is no slouch when it comes to game viewing from the top drawer.
The West Coast National Park, which stretches from Yzerfontein to Langebaan, can easily accessed via the The Culture Route and Foodie Route. It’s a pristine nature reserve and widely considered the jewel in the Cape west coast wildlife crown.
The Park was established in 1985 with the aim of conserving the Langebaan Lagoon, a Ramsar site, and surrounding landscapes, including the islands in Saldanha Bay. The habitats in the park are varied, and the whole area is of international and national importance in respect of both terrestrial and marine life.
Mammals abound and, apart from eland, you could see springbok, kudu, gemsbok and the rare mountain zebra. In summer hundreds of tortoises patrol the flowering land. Although they have long since gone from the area, lions and elephants used to roam during the Dutch East India Company (VOC) period in the 17th century.
The area is also extremely rich in fossils and reported remains of human occupation in the park date back to the Holocene Age.
The (delicious) Foodie Route
Spectacular scenery and breathtaking wildlife is all good and well, however, it’s in your plate on the Cape West Coast where you may sometimes find the best sights.
Food has always been a big deal in this part of the world. The slow pace of life here could have something to do with it, but whatever the reason, cuisine on the Cape West Coast is world-class and always served with a healthy side-order of love.
It really does seem like the contrast between sea and land – surf and turf if you will – reaches all the way to the palate.
The Blue Bay Lodge
The Blue Bay Lodge – built mere metres from he outstretched beaches outside Saldanha Bay– is where you’ll find everything the coast has to offer. Situated in the northern corner of South Africa’s largest natural bay, Saldanha is watched over by Adam and Eve – two massive granite vertical rocks on the mountainside.
Blue Bay Lodge www.bluebaylodge.co.za with its broad terraces overlooking the deep-blue waters of Saldanha is known as the top seaside wedding venue on the Cape West Coast. All the wedding must-haves like amazing views, great accommodation and top notch food are there with a trampoline thrown in for a bit of fun.
But you don’t have to tie the knot to make your stay memorable. Comfortable three star ‘en-suite’ rooms and adjoining self-catering seaside cottages are the perfect bases from where to explore the coast.
Saldanha Bay hosts a naval training base and the South African Military Academy where you’ll find a pristine nature reserve that turns into a floral wonderland in spring. There are well-established hiking trails and several great vantage points from which to view the majestic Southern Right Whale in calving season.
The West Coast National park is a short 30 minute drive away as is the West Coast Fossil Park and the Strandloper open-air restaurant.
There’s golf, sailing, wind and kite surfing, sea kayaking, stand up paddling, squash, scuba and a host of other activities to choose from. And if you’d just like to kick back, simply pull up a beach chair next to the pool and unwind.
Thali Thali Game Lodge
Just off the R27 near Langebaan the Cape West Coast gets wild, really wild.
Stretching across 1, 460 hectares of pristine wilderness lies the Thali Thali game and fynbos reserve. Owned by Thys and Amalia – a young married couple with a young family – the reserve boasts a 3-star lodge with a pool and the obligatory open-air lapa just to remind you you’re on a safari.
Accommodation comes in the form of three West Coast-style self-catering chalets and five B&B luxury en-suite tents. And if you’d really like to make yourself at home, there’s a big old farmhouse with a wrap-around porch that lends it to lazy afternoons basking in the sun.
Game drives at Thali Thali start at 10am and remember to bring some sunscreen and a hat to combat the unrelenting African sun. During a Thali Thali game drive you’ll be able to spot Oryx, Springbok, Bontebok, Wildebeest, Zebra, Giraffe and Ostrich.
Back at the ranch – or lodge should I say – you can try your hand at archery or simply enjoy some well-deserved sundowners on the deck.
P.S. The latest way to get the best of the West Coast Way is via exciting one-day Which Way Trips. Meet South Africa’s most famous ‘tannie’ (aunt), crush grapes for a day in Darling and much, much more. For more information go here www.westcoastway.co.za/tours/